This article demonstrates how to keep ants off fruit trees using a liquid ant bait. The correct liquid ant bait can be an effective ant killer, even for the tough Argentine ant. Killing ants with liquid ant bait is one of the best ways to avoid ants on fruit trees. In the case of ants on citrus trees, keeping ants off the trees can help to reduce the spread of Huanglongbing, a deadly citrus disease.
How to keep ants off of fruit trees using liquid ant bait, one of the best ways to avoid ants on fruit trees.
- How to Keep Ants off Fruit Trees using Liquid Ant Bait – YouTube video
- Argentine Ants
- Ants a Big Problem for Citrus Trees
- Beneficial Parasitic Wasps Disrupted by Ants
- When to use Liquid Ant Bait
- Borax and Boric Acid not Always an Effective Ant Killer
- Finding an Effective Liquid Ant Bait
- Killing Ants with less Boron
- Installing the Bait Station
- Ant Killer Shared by Ants
- Argentine Ants in the House
- Liquid Ant Bait Tips and Tricks
- Purchasing Ant Bait
- Saving Citrus Trees
- Resources for Californians
- What Are Houseplant Pests?
- Wait, What? My Houseplants Have Bugs!?
- Why Does My Indoor Plant Have Bugs?
- Where Did These Plant Bugs Come From?
- How To Identify Common Houseplant Pests
- Why You Should Use Natural Pesticides On Houseplants
- How To Get Rid Of Bugs In Houseplants Naturally
- How To Keep Bugs Out Of Indoor Plants For Good!
- How To Prevent Bugs In Houseplants
- FAQs About Controlling Houseplant Pests
- How to Kill and Repel Ants Safely
- 1. Diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide)
- 2. Glass cleaner and liquid detergent
- 3. Hand soap
- 4. Pepper
- 5. Peppermint
- 6. Tea tree oil
- 7. Lemon eucalyptus oil
- 8. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
- 9. White vinegar
- 10. Boiling water
- 11. Cornstarch
- 12. Cinnamon leaf essential oil
- 13. Neem oil
- 14. Coffee grounds
- 15. Boric acid
- 16. Borax (sodium tetraborate)
- 17. Give your houseplants an anti-ant advantage
- 18. Keep the outdoors out
- 19. Cut off their food source
- 20. Determine how they’re getting in
- Ant Killer: How to Get Rid of Ants
- Know Your Enemy: All About Ants
- How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally
- 10 Ways to Get Rid of Ants
- How to Get Rid of Ants in the Kitchen
- Other Ways to Kill Ants in the House
- How to Get Rid of Flying Ants
- Winning the Battle Against Ants
How to Keep Ants off Fruit Trees using Liquid Ant Bait – YouTube video
In addition to this article, I have also made a YouTube video (see below) demonstrating how to keep ants off fruit trees using liquid ant bait.
The Argentine ant is one of the worst invasive species. From its native Paraná River basin, it has spread to six continents, aggressively displacing native ant species and disrupting ecosystems. California has a supercolony of Argentine ants that covers most urban areas. Because introduced Argentine ant populations lack the genetic diversity of native populations, the ants treat one another as family. The resulting lack of aggression within the introduced colonies gives them an advantage over many native ant species.
Worldwide spread of the argentine ant.
Ants a Big Problem for Citrus Trees
Not only do Argentine ants invade homes, but they also are a major pest of citrus trees and can indirectly kill citrus trees in combination with the Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing, a fatal and incurable disease of citrus spread by citrus psyllids. Due to the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid and Huanglongbing, California is in danger of losing its citrus trees.
Argentine ants harvesting sweet honeydew produced by Asian citrus psyllids.
Beneficial Parasitic Wasps Disrupted by Ants
Parasitic wasps exist in California that are very effective in killing Asian citrus psyllids and reducing their numbers. The below video shows Tamarixia radiata, one of the parasitic wasp species, parasitizing an Asian citrus psyllid.
Ants protect citrus psyllids from parasitic wasps so that they can harvest the sugary honeydew produced by the psyllids. If ants are present on a citrus tree, the parasitic wasps are much less effective and the population of the disease-spreading citrus psyllids will increase. The below video shows Argentine ants protecting Asian citrus psyllids from Tamarixia radiata.
Even if citrus psyllids are not present, ants protect many kinds of insect pests of citrus from natural predators. Basic organic pest control of citrus trees is to keep ants off of the trees so that predators can kill the harmful pests.
Cottony cushion scale tended by Argentine ants.
When to use Liquid Ant Bait
Argentine ants have multiple queens per nest and share workers between nests. In order to exterminate Argentine ants, all of the queens must be killed. Argentine ants are most vulnerable in the springtime because worker ants execute a large percentage of the queens. This makes spring the ideal time to bait Argentine ants. Another advantage of starting in the spring is that there are fewer alternate sources of nectar available to the ants to distract them from the bait. In California March is a good month to start baiting Argentine ants. Starting early can also help to avoid the increase in pests such as the Asian citrus psyllid that occurs when ants infest a citrus tree. Ant baits can be placed any time that ants are present.
Worker ants dragging dead Argentine ant queen.
Borax and Boric Acid not Always an Effective Ant Killer
I had unsuccessfully tried ant baits for organic ant control many years ago. I find boron-based ant baits such as those that use borax and boric acid attractive because they only target ants and cause no harm to beneficial insects such as Tamarixia radiata. I first tried commonly available products with no success. I then tried some of the many do-it-yourself borax ant killer recipes on the internet, also without success.
A borax ant killer that did not work for me.
Finding an Effective Liquid Ant Bait
I was surprised more recently when an entomologist suggested that I try ant baits because I had tried them and they failed to stop my ant problem. After further research, I learned how to kill ants more effectively. I had success using a different boron-based ant bait.
An ant bait that worked.
Killing Ants with less Boron
University of California entomologists have performed extensive studies of boron-based ant baits and have found that the concentration of boron in the bait is critical. Some of the common products use too much boron and thus do not kill an Argentine ant colony. For ants in the house they sometimes quickly kill the invading workers, but they kill the workers so fast that the bait does not make it back to the colony to kill the queens. The same is true of the many borax ant killer recipes on the internet. Although the high-boron baits do not kill the colony, they can still be useful for the case of home invasion if they quickly kill the invading workers. Ant baits with a lower concentration of boron are more effective in killing Argentine ant colonies because the workers are able to take the bait back to the colony before they die and share it with the queens.
Ant bait with too much boron (top) to kill a colony and ant bait with correct concentration of boron (bottom) to kill a colony.
Installing the Bait Station
Whether installing a bait station near a citrus tree or near my house where the ants are invading, I first loosen the soil with a screwdriver. Then I screw it into the ground so that the base is touching the ground and so that the ants can get into the bait station. Next I add the ant bait and put the float on top. The float both allows easy feeding by the ants and also reduces evaporation which would increase the concentration of boron in the bait and make it less effective.
Although I believe that this ant bait is a safe product, I read the label and follow the directions. Per the label I make sure that my daughter and my dog will not access the ant bait.
Installation of the bait station.
This ant bait has the correct percentage of boron as shown by studies by University of California entomologists. Ants feeding on this bait share it by a process known as trophallaxis. With the correct percentage of boron, the bait is shared throughout the colony before the workers die. I have succeeded in killing Argentine ants in my yard with this bait.
Argentine ants sharing ant bait via trophallaxis.
Argentine Ants in the House
Argentine ants often invade homes due to changing weather. Winter rains in Mediterranean climates can cause their shallow nests to flood, forcing them to relocate. Argentine ants also tend to invade when the weather is hot and dry. Killing Argentine ants in the yard can help to avoid an invasion later when the weather changes.
Argentine ants invading a house.
Liquid Ant Bait Tips and Tricks
One thing that can make the ant bait more effective is to create shade for the bait station if it is placed in an area that receives direct sunlight.
Creating shade for the bait station.
Cleaning the Bait Station
Sometimes the ants will become disinterested in the bait if there is a build up of dead ant carcasses. In this case, I clean the bait station with a product such as Clorox Clean up, rinse it thoroughly, and place it again.
Cleaning the bait station.
Argentine Ant Highway
Argentine ants like to use hoses and irrigation tubing as a highway.
Argentine ants on hoses and irrigation tubing.
Placing Bait Stations
Because of this tendency of ants to use tubing as a highway, it is possible to guide ants to a bait station by placing the bait station near tubing. Another good place for a bait station is near an irrigation emitter because Argentine ants are attracted to wet spots in the yard.
Bait station placement near an irrigation line and near an irrigation emitter.
Killing Ants Can Take Time
Because effective boron-based ant baits are slow acting, it can take some time to kill an Argentine ant colony. Rapid results should not be expected. To kill a colony it is necessary to continue baiting as long as ants are present. Another technique that can be used to control ants on citrus trees rapidly is the sticky barrier.
Purchasing Ant Bait
The ant bait demonstrated in this article can be purchased here.
Saving Citrus Trees
Please help to save citrus trees from the deadly Huanglongbing disease by keeping ants off your citrus trees. Also, please share this article with friends who are growing citrus trees. Teaching others how to keep ants off fruit trees can help to save our citrus trees.
Resources for Californians
Please visit CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org for more information on how to stop the spread of Huanglongbing. University of California Integrated Pest Managment has information on other ant baits.
This article was funded by a grant from California’s Citrus Research Board.
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Figuring out how to get rid of indoor plant bugs is extremely frustrating, and it can be very difficult to control houseplant pests. In this post, I’ll show you how to identify the most common pests. Then you’ll learn how to get rid of bugs on houseplants naturally, and get tons of tips for how to keep bugs off indoor plants, for good.
One of the biggest frustrations an indoor gardener can face is finding bugs on a beloved houseplant. Not only is it frustrating, but indoor plant bugs can quickly kill the plant too. Ugh!
You may have already had issues with a houseplant pest infestation before, and never realized it. Maybe your indoor plant seemed perfectly healthy one day, then the next it started to die and you couldn’t figure out how to save it.
Or maybe you had one that you knew was infested, but you didn’t know what to do – so you just threw it out (how you like me now bugs!?).
Don’t despair my friends! There are many ways to control houseplant pests. We can win the battle, and get rid of bugs on houseplants for good!
Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in this detailed guide for how to get rid of houseplant bugs naturally…
- What Are Houseplant Pests?
- Why Does My Indoor Plant Have Bugs
- Where Did They Come From?
- Identifying Common Houseplant Pests
- Why Use Natural Pesticides
- How To Get Rid Of Them
- Bugs On Indoor Plants Leaves
- Tiny Flying Bugs In Houseplants
- Bugs In Houseplants Soil
- How To Keep Them Away For Good!
- How To Prevent Future Infestations
- Do houseplants attract bugs?
- What is eating my indoor plants?
- What can I spray on my houseplants to kill bugs?
- How do you kill bugs in potting soil?
- Is it normal to have bugs in houseplants?
What Are Houseplant Pests?
Houseplant pests are tiny bugs or mites that feed on the leaves, stems and/or roots. There are many different types of bugs that can infest indoor plants.
Some will crawl around on the leaves or in the soil, and some can fly. Others don’t appear to move at all, and look more like a fungus or disease. Regardless of how they move around (or don’t), they are super annoying!
Wait, What? My Houseplants Have Bugs!?
I know, it seems really weird that a plant growing indoors can get infested with bugs, but it’s a very common problem. Trust me, I’ve been growing houseplants most of my life, so I’ve dealt with my fair share of infestations.
It’s no fun. But, if you have houseplants, at some point you will probably have to deal with plant pests. It just goes with the territory.
Why Does My Indoor Plant Have Bugs?
Infestations are worse in the house than they are outside because there are no natural predators to control houseplant pests.
Though houseplants can be infested with bugs any time during the year, they are most vulnerable in the winter. Here’s why…
- Houseplants go into a state of dormancy during the winter, which can make them more prone to attacks from pests.
- Winter growth on a many houseplants is weaker than it is in the summer, making it more vulnerable to infestation.
- Humidity levels are much lower in the house during the winter, which is the perfect breeding ground for some types of plant bugs. Plus, your plants don’t get any fresh air.
Where Did These Plant Bugs Come From?
In order to get rid of bugs on houseplants, and keep them from coming back, it’s important to know where they came from in the first place.
Houseplant bugs are tiny and can seem to appear from nowhere. Below I will list a few common ways a houseplant can become infested with bugs, but you can read all about where houseplant pests come from here.
- bags of potting soil
- new plants
- open windows and doors
- a plant that was outside
- fresh flowers or produce
Scale insects on houseplants
How To Identify Common Houseplant Pests
If you suspect that you have indoor plant bugs, below is a quick list to help you with plant pest identification. You can learn more about how to identify each one here.
Click on the links below to read detailed information about each of these common houseplant bugs, and learn exactly how to kill them…
- Spider webs or tiny spiders on houseplants – If you see spider webs on the leaves or stems of your plant, that is a sure sign of spider mites. If you look closely you may even see microscopic bugs crawling around on the webbing. Yuck! Learn exactly how to get rid of spider mites here.
- Tiny white flying insects on indoor plants leaves – If there are small white bugs that look like tiny flies that flutter around the plant every time it’s disturbed (cough, cough), that means your houseplant has whiteflies. Here’s how to get rid of whiteflies.
- Small, slender black, brown, or green bugs with pointy tails – Are there tiny, long and skinny bugs scatter about on the leaves of your houseplants? Ack, those are thrips. Learn how to get rid of thrips here.
- Clusters of fat, juicy brown, red, or green bugs on plants, flower buds or new growth. You may also notice tiny white flakes or specks on and around the plant. Gross, those are aphids. Learn how to get rid of aphids here.
Green aphids on houseplants
- Hard crusty bumps or brown spots on houseplants leaves or stems – Spots or bumps on the stems and leaf joints that can easily be flaked off with a fingernail is houseplant scale. You may also notice a sticky substance on indoor plants leaves, or around the area where the plant is sitting. Ewe! Read all about how to get rid of scale here.
- Tiny bugs in houseplant soil – Do you see tiny black or white bugs in plant soil, or gnats that look like fruit flies flying around your houseplants? Yep, those are fungus gnats. Find the details for how to get rid of fungus gnats here.
- White fluffy stuff on houseplant stems and leaf joints – If there’s white stuff on plants that looks like cotton or mildew, then it has mealybugs. You may also notice sticky leaves on houseplants, or the area around the plant may be covered in a sticky residue. Ick! Learn exactly how to get rid of mealybugs here.
Mealybugs on houseplants stem and leaves
Why You Should Use Natural Pesticides On Houseplants
I never recommend using synthetic chemical pesticides on plants. Not only are those toxic chemicals bad for our health, they don’t always work to kill plant bugs.
Over time, houseplant bugs can build up immunity to chemicals and become resistant to them. That’s why it’s important to use all-natural pest control methods.
It’s always best to know which pest your dealing with before you begin treating your plant so that you are sure to get rid of them as fast as possible.
But below are some general tips for getting rid of any kind of indoor plant insect, whether they are on the leaves, flying around the plant, or in the plants soil.
To learn more, read about my natural homemade pest control remedies for houseplants here.
How To Get Rid Of Bugs In Houseplants Naturally
If you find any pests on houseplants, it’s important to act fast and begin treatment immediately! You want to control houseplant pests as quickly as possible to prevent them from spreading to your other plants.
When it comes to pesticides, it’s always best to stick with natural methods and products. All of the methods I recommend for controlling houseplant pests are all-natural products or home remedies, and they work great!
Home remedies to kill bugs on indoor plants
How To Get Rid Of Bugs On Indoor Plants Leaves
Most common houseplant bugs feed on plants, and will be found on the leaves, flower buds and/or the stems. Here are some tips for getting rid of bugs on indoor plants naturally…
- The first thing to do is immediately isolate the plant to prevent the infestation from spreading to your other houseplants. Also be sure to monitor the surrounding plants closely for signs of indoor plant pests for several weeks.
- Some bugs can leave the plant and hide for a long time. So be sure to thoroughly clean the area where the plant was sitting using soapy water. You can also sterilize the area with rubbing alcohol if you want.
- Wash the infested plant with insecticidal soap, or use a mild liquid soap. Soap kills houseplant bugs on contact. Be careful with the type you use though. Some contain degreasers and detergents that can harm sensitive plants. Always spot-test any type of soap on your plants before washing all of the leaves.
- Wash the pot and plant tray with soapy water too. Houseplant pests can easily hid under the rim of the pot or tray, or even on the bottoms of them.
- Use a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol and dab it on the bugs to kill and remove them from the plant.
- Treat the plant with neem oil for long-term indoor plant pest control and prevention. Neem oil is a natural insecticide for indoor plants that works to kill and repel bugs. You can learn all about how to use neem oil insecticide here. Alternatively, you could use horticultural oil or try using a hot pepper spray.
Using natural houseplant bug spray to kill plant bugs
How To Get Rid Of Tiny Flying Bugs On Houseplants
Most indoor plant insects fly at some point in their lifecycle, which makes them even more difficult to control.
But killing the flying bugs alone isn’t going to be enough to eliminate a houseplant pest infestation. You need to kill the eggs and nymphs in order to get rid of insects on indoor plants all together.
So be sure to follow the steps above for getting rid of bugs on plant leaves in addition to these steps. Here are a few additional tips for getting rid of flying houseplant pests…
- Use yellow sticky traps or houseplant sticky stakes to capture and kill little flying bugs in houseplants. This will help to control them, is non-toxic, and can prevent them from flying to nearby plants too.
- Suck the flying bugs up with the vacuum cleaner. This works well to get a large population of flying indoor plant pests under control quickly. Just be careful not to suck up the plant leaves in the process.
Using sticky traps to kill flying insects in houseplants
How To Get Rid Of Bugs In Houseplants Soil
Many types of houseplant pests can be found in potting soil, especially fungus gnats. So any time you find bugs on your houseplants, be sure to check the soil too, and treat it if necessary.
Here are a few tips for how to get rid of bugs in the soil of houseplants…
- Remove the top inch of soil and throw it out. Then replace it with fresh potting soil or a soil cover. Using a soil cover like fine sand or a natural top dressing can help prevent a future infestation.
- Drench the soil with an organic pesticide for houseplants. You could use an organic insecticidal soap (I make my own using 1 tsp mild liquid soap to 1 liter of water). Or try a neem oil solution (which can work for systemic houseplant insect control). Be careful not to overwater your plant in the process though.
- Ensure you’re watering your houseplants properly, the soil should never be soggy. Wet soil is not only bad for houseplants, it’s a breeding ground for pests like fungus gnats. If you struggle with watering, I recommend getting an inexpensive soil water meter to help you get it right.
- Store your unused potting soil in a bug-proof container, houseplant pests can’t live without air. I use a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid (this airtight seal lid is perfect).
Using a soil cover to get rid of bugs in houseplants soil
How To Keep Bugs Out Of Indoor Plants For Good!
In order to get rid of houseplant pests, you must be vigilant in fighting them. You can’t just treat the plant one time and expect to kill all of the indoor plant insects, nymphs and eggs. It can take several treatments to eliminate them for good.
So once you start treating a plant, inspect it daily and continue treatment until all signs of the infestation are gone.
Most common houseplant pests multiply very quickly, and it takes several treatments to control them, and eventually get rid of them completely.
How To Prevent Bugs In Houseplants
Once you get rid of bugs on houseplants, you don’t want them to come back, right!? The best long-term defense against any houseplant infestation is preventive pest control.
So here are a few more tips for how to keep indoor plants pest free and healthy for the long run.
- Always clean and disinfect pots and plant trays before reusing them. You can wash them with soapy water or, if they are sturdy enough, run them through the dishwasher.
- Check your plants on a regular basis for signs of indoor plant pests. I usually do this each time I water my plants.
- Never repot a plant just because it has a bug problem. Repotting can further stress an unhealthy houseplant, which could end up killing the plant.
- Always use fresh, sterile commercial potting soil to repot plants – and never, never use garden soil! If you’re repotting a houseplant that doesn’t have any bugs, it’s fine to reuse the soil in the new container for the same plant. But you should never reuse potting soil from one houseplant to repot another plant.
- Whenever you bring home a new plant, make sure that you inspect it closely for any signs of bugs. It’s also good to isolate new houseplants for a few weeks to make sure no bugs show up.
- Sterilize your pruning shears and other tools every time you use them. You can wash them with soap and water, or dip them in rubbing alcohol between uses.
- Always wash your hands after handling an infested plant.
- If you put any houseplants outside for the summer, be sure to debug them before bringing them back inside in the fall. Learn how to debug plants before bringing them indoors here.
Healthy, pest free indoor plants
FAQs About Controlling Houseplant Pests
Below you will find answers to some of the most common questions I get about controlling houseplant pests. If you can’t find the answer to your question after reading through this post and the FAQs, then please ask it in the comments section below and I’ll answer it ASAP.
Do houseplants attract bugs?
Yes! And some types of houseplants are more attractive to bugs than others are.
What is eating my indoor plants?
Most houseplant bugs feed on plants by sucking the sap out of the leaves. So, if you’re finding holes in the leaves, or parts of the leaves are being eaten, then there’s some other bug to blame.
Inspect the leaves closely to see if you can find the culprit. Otherwise, check the “Identifying Common Houseplant Pests” section above to identify the bugs on your indoor plant.
What can I spray on my houseplants to kill bugs?
I recommend using organic insecticidal soap or a mild liquid soap for washing the leaves. Then spraying the plant with neem oil (a natural insecticide for houseplants) for long-term organic pest control.
Just be sure to always use a natural pest control spray because indoor plant pests can build up resistance to synthetic pesticides. See the “How To Get Rid Of Them” section above for more details and product suggestions.
How do you kill bugs in potting soil?
If you have a bag of potting soil that’s infested with bugs, there are a few ways to kill them. If you live in a cold climate, simply put the bag of soil outside, and allow it to freeze completely.
Otherwise, store your unused potting soil in an airtight container. A basic 5 gallon bucket with an airtight seal lid works great. Read the “Bugs In Houseplants Soil” section above for more information.
Is it normal to have bugs in houseplants?
No, it is not normal to have bugs in your houseplants. Don’t feel bad about it though, because it is a very common problem. But you don’t have to just live with it. You can eliminate them, and have bug-free indoor plants!
It can be very difficult to control houseplant pests, and recurring infestations are no fun. But now that you know how to get rid of houseplant bugs and keep them from coming back, you can win the battle!
If you’re tired of constantly fighting houseplant pests, and you’re ready to get rid of them for good, then my Houseplant Pest Control eBook is for you! It’s has everything you need to know so that you can debug your houseplants, and keep them bug free!
Products I Recommend
More Posts About Houseplant Pest Control
- How To Keep Cats Out Of Houseplants
- Fungus Gnats vs Fruit Flies: What’s The Difference?
How do you control houseplant pests? Leave a comment below and share your tips for how to get rid of plant bugs.
Q: Do you know how to get ants out of garden beds without killing the plants? I have some monster ant hills around some sedum joys and day lilies. I’ve tried putting cornmeal on them, but that hasn’t worked.
Karen Norville, Homer Glen
A: Most ants are generally harmless and actually helpful to a garden’s ecosystem by dispersing seeds and breaking down organic matter, said Rick Belding, a horticulturist with Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Ants will build a nest or hill in hospitable places such as sites that have sandy soil or plant material. They burrow down about three or four feet underground where the queen sits protected by her soldiers.
“That organic matter around the base (of plants) or the structure of soil is drawing the ants to the area,” he said.
To get rid of ants, either take away the attractions or create disturbing conditions to make them pack up and move out. To remove the attractive environment, you can dig out the plants, rake the area clean and remove the debris, Belding said.
Or you can disturb the nest by sprinkling diatomaceous earth, which is granulated fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae, around the base of the nest. The material is razor sharp so apply when there’s no wind and be careful not to inhale. The sharp edges of the granules will injure or kill the ants that crawl over it.
“If enough of the population dies, the whole colony might move for the best interest of the queen,” he said. “Whoever’s in charge of relocation may rally the troops and say, ‘OK, we’re out of here.'”
Another deterrent is chili pepper flakes or powder sprinkled around the periphery of the mound. But since this spice could too easily blow away in a slight breeze, it’s best to mix the pepper with some coffee grounds for stability.
Belding wasn’t sure exactly how chili pepper affects ants except to guess that it was an irritant.
Remember, when you apply anything to the garden, you are affecting the entire community of insects, many of which are beneficial. And generally, an ant hill does no harm to the garden, so there’s really no need to do anything, he said.
Some ants, such as carpenter ants are known to cause damage to wood, but in a way, they can also be considered a “friend,” Belding said. Since they are attracted to wood that’s in a serious state of decay, any sign of carpenter ants could be telling you your house is about to collapse, he said.
Homeowners with gardening questions can email [email protected] or call the Plant Information Service of the Chicago Botanic Garden at 847-835-0972. Summer hotline hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
How to Kill and Repel Ants Safely
1. Diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide)
Diatomaceous earth is a type of silica. It comprises fossilized remains of aquatic organisms called diatoms.
Diatomaceous earth isn’t a poison. It kills ants and other bugs by absorbing the oils in their skeletons, which dries them out. Since it’s an irritant, avoid breathing in diatomaceous earth or getting it on your skin.
You can purchase food-grade diatomaceous earth online. To use it as an ant killer, follow package directions, or sprinkle the powder anywhere you see ants.
2. Glass cleaner and liquid detergent
Combining spray-on glass cleaner with liquid detergent or dish soap can help deter ants from entering your home. It does this by removing the scented pheromone trail they leave behind when they walk.
Mix together and spray on areas where ants seem to congregate or originate from. Wipe down the area after spraying, leaving a light residue.
While there are no studies to support this remedy, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s enough to keep ants away.
3. Hand soap
If the scent of glass cleaner bothers you, using hand soap may be enough to remove ants. Soapy water of any kind removes the scent of ant pheromones. Use it on ant trails and points of entry in your home.
Without pheromone trails to follow, ants are unable to communicate with each other.
Since ants seem to find the smell of pepper irritating, you can try black or red (cayenne) pepper as an ant deterrent.
This remedy to ant infestation is completely natural and safe. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sprinkling pepper around baseboards and behind appliances may help keep ants at bay.
Peppermint is a natural insect repellent that may be very effective at repelling ants and other bugs, such as mosquitoes.
Mix 10 to 20 drops of peppermint essential oil with 2 cups of water. Spray the mixture around the baseboards and windows of your home. Let dry.
Like most essential oils, keep peppermint oil out of reach of pets, especially cats, who can become very ill if exposed.
You can likely find peppermint essential oil at your local grocery store. It’s also available online.
6. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil repels and kills ants. Mix 5 to 10 drops of tea tree oil with 2 cups of water and use as a spray. You can also saturate cotton balls and place them around your home where you’ve seen ants.
If the scent is too strong, try making a mixture that combines tea tree oil with peppermint oil and water.
Like most essential oils, keep tea tree oil out of reach of pets, especially cats, who can become very ill if exposed.
You can find tea tree oil at your local grocery store or online.
7. Lemon eucalyptus oil
Oil extracted from the lemon eucalyptus tree is another natural bug repellent. It contains citronella, which is used in candles to repel flying bugs, such as mosquitoes. Anecdotal evidence indicates it’s also effective at repelling ants.
Don’t ingest lemon eucalyptus oil. Keep it out of reach of children and pets.
To use, saturate cotton balls with the undiluted oil. Place in areas where ants have been seen. Change weekly.
You can likely find lemon eucalyptus oil at your local health food store. It’s also available online.
8. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
OLE isn’t the same substance as lemon eucalyptus oil. OLE comes from the gum eucalyptus tree, which is native to Australia. It contains a chemical called PMD, which has been found to be an effective insect repellent.
PMD is classified as a bio-pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is considered safe to use. Some people report OLE is able to kill and repel ants. People also use it to repel mosquitoes.
You can find OLE at your local hardware and gardening store or online.
9. White vinegar
If you see ants, wipe them up with a solution of 50-50 vinegar and water, or straight vinegar.
White vinegar kills ants and also repels them. If you have an ant problem, try using diluted vinegar to clean hard surfaces, including floors and countertops, throughout your home.
Ants can smell the vinegar after it dries, but the scent doesn’t remain discernible for long to most people.
10. Boiling water
If you notice ant holes near your home, pour boiling water into them. This will effectively and immediately kill many of the ants inside. Ant hills may appear small, but the ant colonies underneath them are wide.
The boiling water won’t be enough to kill off the entire colony. For this reason, make sure to treat every ant hole you see within your home’s proximity.
If you happen upon a large number of ants, you can use cornstarch to smother them.
Liberally pour cornstarch over the entire group of ants, and add water on top. This will be messy, but the result will be lots of dead ants encased in cornstarch.
You can also cover the ants with cornstarch and then vacuum them up instead of using water.
Make sure to dispose of the sealed vacuum bag outdoors immediately.
12. Cinnamon leaf essential oil
Compounds in cinnamon leaf essential oil, including trans-cinnamaldehyde, have been found effective at killing and repelling ants, including biting red ants.
Anecdotal evidence indicates powdered cinnamon is also effective at repelling ants. Try saturating cotton balls with the oil and leaving them where you’ve seen ants, or sprinkling the powder around on windowsills and baseboards.
Health food stores often carry cinnamon leaf essential oil. You can also find it online.
13. Neem oil
Neem oil is extracted from the neem tree, which is native to India. When used at full strength, some people find neem oil repels ants from entering a home.
Diluted neem and products containing neem extract have been reported to not work nearly as well as full-strength neem.
You can find neem oil at many health food stores or online.
14. Coffee grounds
This anecdotal ant repellant requires you to brew the coffee first. Brewed coffee grounds have been found to keep ants away.
Try sprinkling the coffee grounds on disposable surfaces, such as index cards, and leaving them near areas that attract ants, such as pet bowls and plants.
You can also place the grounds on windowsills. They may lose their potency once they’re dry, so make sure to change often.
15. Boric acid
Boric acid is a type of poison, which has been proven to kill worker ants and their queen within 3 weeks of exposure. It does this by eroding their outer shells and stomachs.
It’s very important to keep boric acid away from pets and children and to wear gloves while you’re working with it. Most basic boric acid recipes to treat ants include the following directions:
- Make a solution of 1/2 teaspoon boric acid, 8 teaspoons sugar, and 1 cup of warm water.
- Stir until the sugar and boric acid are completely dissolved. Saturate cotton balls and place around your home in areas where you’ve seen ants.
- You can also leave the mixture out in containers. After use, wash containers thoroughly or discard.
You can also use boric acid as an ingredient in DIY ant traps. Mix the powder with something sweet that will attract ants, such as maple syrup or corn syrup. Spread on a flat, disposable surface, like cardboard, and place in areas where you see ants.
Find boric acid at your local hardware and gardening store or online.
16. Borax (sodium tetraborate)
Contrary to common belief, borax and boric acid aren’t the same chemical compound. Anecdotally, both may be equally as effective at killing ants in the home.
Like boric acid, don’t use baits prepared with borax where children or pets can reach them.
Make a solution of borax, sugar, and warm water, using the same procedure as you would with boric acid.
Find borax at your local hardware and gardening store or online.
17. Give your houseplants an anti-ant advantage
Check your houseplants for swarms of ants, which might indicate nests under the soil. Discard any plants that appear to be infested.
Stop ants from making homes in your plants by surrounding them with citrus rinds from either lemons or oranges.
18. Keep the outdoors out
Keep your yard clean of debris. Cut off any vines or vegetation that touches or leans onto the exterior walls of your house and windows. These can make it easier for ants to enter your home.
19. Cut off their food source
Eliminating the problem before it starts is the best way to get rid of ants. You can do this by making sure you have no food sources readily available for them.
This will entail keeping food tightly sealed in containers or plastic bags. Keep in mind that ants are attracted to sweet and starchy things like sugar, honey, and cornmeal.
You’ll also have to be vigilant about cleaning up crumbs from your home. Don’t forget to clean:
- under and around standing appliances in your kitchen
- in couch cushions
- in garbage pails
- areas of the home where your family eats or prepares food
Pet food can also attract ants. Remove pet bowls as soon as your pet has finished eating. Give the bowls a rinse to eliminate the scent of the food.
20. Determine how they’re getting in
It can be next to impossible to seal every nook and cranny, but check your home for cracks in the walls and holes near floorboards and in radiators. You can fill these up or treat with repellent. Also check for rips in window screens, which you can mend.
Ant Killer: How to Get Rid of Ants
Ants are one of the most common household pests in the United States. If you see ants in your home, it’s not a sign of a dirty home. It’s simply a sign of ants’ tenacity and survival instincts helping them adapt to the modern age.
Know Your Enemy: All About Ants
Approximately 12,000 species of ants colonize the world, with only a handful of species making a nuisance of themselves in the average home. Ants are social insects, living in large groups called colonies. Most ant colonies have one queen, with thousands of sterile female worker ants. Winged ants are actually males, which are produced when the colony needs more ants. The male ant’s sole purpose in life is to mate with the queen and produce any larvae. One queen ant can live for a year or more and produce millions of offspring during that time.
When it is time to reproduce, swarms of winged ants emerge from the colony. These are both males and a queen ant. After mating, the queen seeks a suitable nest site. She prepares the colony and sheds her wings, then produces eggs to set up housekeeping in the new colony.
An ant can lift 20 times its body weight. Ants seek food and water sources, marking their trails using scent chemicals to guide other ants from their colony to a good supply source. Once you see ants inside your home, chances are good that they have set up nearby. Most ants live outdoors and simply find an easy entrance point into a home where food and water are abundant. A few species, such as carpenter ants, nest inside wood and can weaken beams and wooden structures from their tunneling activities.
Ants are often mistaken for termites. Flying ants and termites do look similar from a distance. If you see insects flying around your home, and you aren’t sure if they are termites or ants, try catching one and looking at it under a magnifying glass. Winged ants have a narrow waist and hind wings shorter than the front wings. Termites’ wings are equal in size, and termites tend to shed their wings continually. Many homeowners find termite wings before they actually see termites.
How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally
To get rid of ants naturally, you need to first remove any potential food sources.
Before reaching for the traps, sprays or natural ant killers, it’s important to make your home as unappealing to ants as possible. Remove tempting food sources. Keep your kitchen and food preparation areas, including the sink and sink trap, as clean as possible. Look around the baseboards, doors and windows to find where the ants are getting into your home, then seal these areas. Most ants prefer to nest outdoors, traveling into homes to seek food.
In addition to these steps, the following actions may also reduce the number of ants in your home, making it easier for natural ant killers to work on the remaining pests:
- Wash garbage pails and recycling bins with warm, soapy water. A good household floor cleaner with a strong scent, such as a pine or citrus-scented cleaner, not only removes food particles that ants feed upon but also disrupts their ability to find the food through scent. Some scents are unappealing to ants and will turn them away, too.
- Keep garbage pails and recycling bins outdoors if the ants return.
- Remove liner paper from kitchen cabinets and pantry shelves, which may have accumulated crumbs and spills from food sources. Even if you can’t see or smell them, the ants can. If ants have gotten into food stored in your pantry, such as bags of sugar or boxes of cereal, discard them immediately. Store sugar, cereals, grains and other food that tempt ants in air-tight plastic or glass bins.
- Keep your pet’s food bowls clean and remove them after your pet finishes eating. If your cats are grazers instead of guzzlers and like to eat a little at a time, place their bowl in a shallow dish or pie pan filled with water. A little rim of water around the food bowl won’t deter kitty from eating but will drown any ants foolish enough to attempt to cross the water barrier.
- Houseplants are, unfortunately, attractive nest sites for some species of ants. Houseplants swarming with ants should be removed from your home. Repot your plant in clean, sterile soil and wash the pot thoroughly in a solution of water with a splash of bleach mixed in. Rinse before planting your houseplants to remove any trace of bleach. Use your hose or the spray unit on your kitchen faucet to wash the plant’s leaves to remove any ants hiding under the leaves. Replant in sterile potting soil. If the ants return, employ the same trick used to safeguard your pet’s food bowl to guard your plants against an ant invasion. Fill a pie plate with water, but place a brick in the center or an overturned pot. Make sure that the pot or brick doesn’t touch the sides of the pan. Place your houseplant above the water line on the object in the center of the pan. The pan and water act like a moat to protect your houseplants against ant invaders. A bonus is extra humidity around your houseplant — except for cactus and other succulents, most houseplants like the extra humidity!
10 Ways to Get Rid of Ants
Assuming you do have ants and not termites, there are many ways to get rid of ants.
- Essential oils: You can use essential oils such as peppermint, citrus oil and tea tree oil to make an ant-repellent spray. Purchase a clean spray bottle and fill it with 1/4 cup of water, 15 drops of tea tree oil, 15 drops of peppermint oil and seven drops of the citrus oil of your choice. Shake it well and spray it around areas where ants are common, including baseboards. Do NOT use this oil in the kitchen or on surfaces where you prepare food. Use a mix of 15 drops peppermint oil and seven drops lemon oil with water to spray food-preparation areas.
- Vinegar: This vinegar spray makes great natural ant repellent. Mix equal amounts of common white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray areas where ants enter the home.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon, the spice found in your pantry or the grocery store, can be sprinkled around scent trails and baseboards to ward off ants naturally.
- Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth is a natural home and garden product that kills all types of insects without harming people, pets or the environment when used as directed. It’s comprised of rocks lined with tiny fossils called diatoms. When ground into a fine powder, it contains miniscule sharp points, which cut into insects and kill them. Sprinkle it generously around baseboards and areas where ants are frequently seen.
- Wash away the scent trails: Ants use invisible scent trails like street signs to guide their companions to food sources. If one ant finds a juicy supply, such as your dog’s food bowl or your kitchen garbage can, it will lay down a scent trail to help the rest of the colony find their way. Wash away the scent trail with common dish-washing liquid soap. Fill a pail with warm water and a squirt of dish soap, then wash the area where you see the ants traveling to and from the food source. You may need to repeat this several times to completely eradicate the scent trails.
- Castile soap spray: Castile soap is an old-fashioned remedy that you can use in a spray to kill ants naturally. You can find cakes of castile soap in natural health food stores or some old-fashioned general stores. Crumble it up, and mix 1/4 cup of soap with a few drops of peppermint oil and one quart of water. Shake and spray around ants to kill them. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap is a castile soap product that is often recommended for natural ant killer sprays.
- Poison-free ant traps: Victor® Poison-Free® Insect Magnet® Traps are inexpensive and generally safe to use around pets and kids. Each trap has a pheromone that lures ants and other crawling bugs into the sticky box.
- Chalk: Yes, common chalk is a good ant deterrent. You can grind up white chalk found in any stationery store or buy powdered chalk in a bottle at a hardware store. Use the squeeze-bottle chalk to draw a line around your baseboards and food items. Ants won’t cross the chalk line!
- Cornmeal: Sprinkle cornmeal around ant nests and entry points. It doesn’t kill ants, but repels them naturally.
- Aspartame: Sugar substitutes such as aspartame contain a poison that can kill ants. Mix powdered aspartame products into apple juice and place inside container traps. Ants take the bait, poison themselves and poison the colony.
How to Get Rid of Ants in the Kitchen
Kitchens pose special problems when trying to figure out how to get rid of ants. Because you prepare and store food in the kitchen, you shouldn’t use typical store-bought poisons. Some natural sprays, such as the one mentioned above that contains tea tree oil, should not be used near food-preparation areas since undiluted tea tree oil can be harmful if ingested. Instead use a poison-free glue board trap in areas you often see ants.
Other Ways to Kill Ants in the House
Most of the ways to get rid of ants mentioned in the 10 ant killers above will kill visible ants but won’t get rid of ants permanently. Some such as cornmeal and chalk repel ants, which may force the colony to relocate if it can’t get enough food. However, ants are persistent. They will go to great lengths to find food for their colonies. Discouraging them from one area may simply give them an incentive to find a new place to enter your home or seek food.
The best way to rid your home of ants permanently is to use traps. These traps, such as these Safer® Brand Products for Ant Control, are excellent choices for killing ants in the house. Some traps capture ants and other insects without using poison. Ants crawl in, but they can’t get out. You just pick up the trap and throw it out when it’s full or you’ve seen the last of the ants.
Bait traps attract worker ants, who take the bait back to their colonies to feed the queen and other ants. This kills the entire colony over time, removing ants permanently. Bait traps are safe to use around the kitchen and in other areas of your home since the bait isn’t exposed to people or pets, just to ants.
How to Get Rid of Flying Ants
Males and mating queens have wings — these are the flying ants that you see. At certain times of the year, males emerge from the colony along with a queen. They mate, then shed their wings.
Getting rid of flying ants is very similar to getting rid of any household ant. In addition to using the natural ant killers listed above, use aerosol sprays for a fast-acting ant killer. Safer® Brand Ant & Roach Killer Aerosol is an easy-to-use, citrus-scented spray that is safe for use indoors and kills ants on contact. It contains no CFCs or other chemicals and is OMRI listed and compliant for use in organic production.
Winning the Battle Against Ants
Ants are tough, but Safer® Brand ant repellent is tougher. Take action today to rid your home of ants. Use the tips for cleaning your home and preventing ants from entering. Try some of the remedies and follow up with Safer® Brand ant killer products to eliminate ants from your home.
Ants are an important component of the garden ecosystem. Ants are cleaners: they eat and help decompose organic matter in the soil, enriching the soil. Ants also eat pest insects such as fleas, fly larvae, and termites. Ants tunneling in the soil improve soil aeration which is helpful to plant roots.
Ants become a garden pest when they eat living plants–usually seedlings, weak, or dying plants–and cultivate colonies of insect pests such as aphids, scale, and mealybugs (these bugs excrete a sugary substance called honeydew which ants eat–ants will farm these insects to ensure their own food supply).
Ant pests can be repelled or killed. A few ants in the wrong place are not a major concern: repel or deter these ants–they will go elsewhere and likely do no harm. Large ant nests in the middle of the garden are a concern; these ants may be eating young plants and cultivating insect pests. Pest ants should be eliminated before they take over the garden.
A bit of background: there are more than 14,000 species of ants. Each species has its own way of living, colonizing, and feeding. You may have to change up your ant control game plan if one method does not solve the problem. Ants can adapt to control strategies.
Ants live in colonies or nests. Ants have a caste system: a queen, worker ants, solider ants, and male ants. Eggs are laid by the queen. The ant lifecycle moves from egg, to larvae, to pupate, and adult. The ants you see around the entrance to the nest are foragers–they collect food and bring it back to the colony and queen. The ants you actually see comprise about 10 percent of the total colony.
Ants are survivors: the nest is built to protect the queen and the colony. Ant nests can withstand rain and flooding. When the nest is under severe attack, worker ants will carry eggs to a new location to avoid total extermination of the colony.
Control of ants in the garden can range from repelling or deterring them to killing them and eliminating the nest. Here are several organic ant controls:
If ants are not a major problem in your garden: repel or deter them. Here’s how:
• Ants are repelled by strong smells: grow plants with strong natural odors or volatile oils: peppermint and other mints, garlic, rhubarb, tansy, pennyroyal, and sweet fern. Ants are repelled by these plants.
• Ants are deterred by acidy plant substances: lemon juice or hot pepper sprays will send ants away. Mix lemon, hot peppers, or garlic with water in a blender then apply the solution as a spray or drench where ants congregate. A few ants will be killed; the rest will relocate. Other ant repellants include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder.
• Ants are covered with pheromones–a chemical substance. Ant pheromones leave a trail which allows other ants to follow. Disrupt the pheromone trail by spraying the trail with soap and water, garlic and water, vinegar and water, or a peppermint and water mix. The ants will become confused.
• Look for honeydew secreting insects–aphids, scale, mealybugs–and get rid of them. Ants farm these insects for the sugar rich honeydew they excrete. If the ants’ food source disappears, the ants will move on. Aphids, scale, and mealybugs feed on weak or injured plants; keep your garden healthy to avoid weak or sick plants.
If the ant infestation is great and the survival of the garden is in danger, killing ants may be necessary. Be advised that pest ants will be killed, but so will beneficial insects that get in the way. As well, nearby plants may be injured or killed. Use pesticides with caution and care.
• Diatomaceous earth is an ant repellant and killer. Diatomaceous earth is crushed sea life fossils. Shards of diatomaceous earth–many of which are nearly microscopic–will cut into soft-bellied insects such as ants, slugs, and cockroaches. The cuts cause these insects to dehydrate and die. Place diatomaceous earth along ant trails and around ant nest entrances.
• Boiling water will scald and kill ants. Pour boiling water directly into the entrance to the ant nest. Ant nests can be deep and they are constructed to protect the queen from rain or flooding, so several applications of boiling water may be necessary. Pour 3 gallons of boiling water into the nest each day for several days in a row. Monitor the activity around the nest each day to determine if this has been effective. The best time to treat ant nests with boiling water is mid-morning when ants are most active. You must kill the queen to eradicate the nest. Be advised that boiling water will harm and can kill beneficial insects and nearby plants as well.
• Boric acid is a natural occurring compound used as an insect repellant and pesticide. Boric acid–from boron–is poisonous if ingested in large quantities; it is a stomach poison. Be advised that boric acid can harm and kill animals as well as insects if ingested (the amount of harm depends upon the amount ingested and the size of the insect or animal): keep boric acid out of the reach of children and pets: use bait stations that children and pets can not enter. Wash your hands and gloves after working with boric acid.
Make boric acid ant bait by dissolving 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of powdered boric acid and 10 teaspoons (50 mL) sugar into 2 cups (500 mL) of water. Soak cotton balls with this mixture and place them in a bait station near the ant nest or along the ant trail. Worker ants will take eat the bait and carry it back to the nest and queen as food. A bait station should be pet and child proof: place the cotton balls in a jar with a screw top, wrap adhesive tape around the lid locking it, then pierce the jar top several times so that ants can enter and feed.
Boric acid works through dehydration–in the ant’s stomach. Ants can not build up immunity to boric acid.
If you find many dead ants near the bait station, the bait mix may be too strong. The mix should be slow working so that the worker ants carry the bait back to the nest where other members of the colony will feed on it.
Ants can drink from a boric acid-sugar mix, but the bait station should be spill proof so that children and pets do not upset it or drink from it.
Ants do change up their food sources from sugars to carbohydrates: instead of using sugar, you can mix the boric acid with peanut butter. But the bait station must be child and pet proof.
Place sticky glue boards around the nest or trail area to monitor the success of your effort. If few ants are caught in the traps, you effort has worked.
Keep boric acid away from children and pets. Do not get boric acid in your eyes or nose; wash your hands and gloves after using boric acid.
• Commercial ant baits with abamectin can be used for heavy ant infestations. Abamectin is an insecticidal compound made in laboratories from the natural fermentation of soil bacterium. Follow the directions.